POLITICS
10/11/2011 02:43 pm ET | Updated Dec 10, 2011

Army Family Support Threatened By Budget Uncertainty

WASHINGTON -- With the Army's highest leaders in attendance, families of soldiers gathered at the annual meeting of the Association of United States Army in Washington to express concern that the lack of a federal budget is harming the Army's support network.

Speaking at the event on Monday, Sylvia Kidd, the director of Army family programs for AUSA, bemoaned cuts for Army spouses to attend "invaluable" conferences and training programs. "We need to know how these cuts will impact you and they're going to affect your ... ability to support your families," she told the audience.

The cautious spending levels -- which, at times, mean cuts to various programs -- come as a result of the continuing resolutions that currently fund the federal government. Congress has not passed a federal budget since April 29, 2009, due to gridlock between the two parties, and the uncertainty in the short-term measures have led to cuts in the military.

"Our question is, 'What are our budgets going to look like?'" said Army Secretary John McHugh in response to an audience question about the possibility of ending support programs. Because of the lack of fiscal certainty, he said, "commanders are held to lower levels of expenditures across all of the budgetary inputs than they might otherwise be."

To support the families of soldiers, the Army operates organizations among its smallest units called Family Readiness Groups, which provide important information and access to programs for spouses and children stateside. Those groups rely on volunteers but are backed up by Family Readiness Support Assistants (FRSA), who are full-time employees.

The potential elimination of that program was a major concern among attendees. Dacia Laurencio-Eady, a FRSA with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, said that because of funding issues, her battalion had gone several months with the position unfilled before she was hired in August. McHugh acknowledged that the budget delays had already affected the family groups.

Kidd voiced concerns that such cuts would degrade the quality of family programs, saying that without proper support, "people start having to think about taking care of themselves. All of our families are stressed. So I can see it maybe being more difficult to get an FRG leader for a unit or get one that’s very active."

She also emphasized that even with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan drawing down, military families face long-term challenges. "We know from past experience that even with fewer and shorter deployments and more time at home, the strain families have been experiencing for so long is not going to magically disappear," she said. "In fact, it's likely to increase as families struggle to come together as a cohesive unit again."

McHugh told The Huffington Post that until the budget issues are resolved, "the commanders, and in fact all of the services, are trying to be cautious and making sure that we spend the resources we have available in the most effective way possible. It's not a new development, but it's a reality that perhaps many in this room haven't encountered before."

Despite the unresolved fiscal issues, McHugh and recently-installed Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno pledged to provide all possible resources to the the Army's families in the meantime. "We need to make sure that all of you have confidence that your Army family will be there for you when you most need them," Odierno said.